Against the backdrop of continued protests, two recent events in Algeria — the election of Abdelmajid Tebboune as President of Algeria on December 12 and the death of the Military Chief of Staff and Secretary General of Defense Ahmed Qaid Saleh on December 23 — are closely intertwined. This paper will examine these two developments and their impact on the future of the Algerian political scene.
Developments in Algeria
Abdelmajid Tebboune won a majority of 58.15% in the December 12 presidential elections, in which some 40% of the electorate participated. It is clear that this result is, at heart, the work of the military establishment, which controlled the election process through its complex tactical and administrative machinery. Although the situation seemed to favor former head of government Ali Benflis, the military establishment were not reassured by their negotiations with him. Instead, they chose to shift power to an administrative technocrat with whom they were familiar, whose fundamental experience was in regional government within Algeria, thereby placing him, in practice, under the tutelage of the powerful military leaders in control of Algerian politics.
General Qaid Saleh’s plan was to circumvent the constitutional void that had driven President Bouteflika from power in April 2019 by electing a new president who would ensure the regime’s continued legitimacy and who would be capable of negotiating with protesters with a view to carrying out as many of the requested political reforms that could be tolerated by the military leadership, while still securing its traditional role at the heart of political decision-making. Qaid Saleh’s sudden death has changed the dynamic, however. It is difficult to predict what impact it will have on the following elements: the composition of the military establishment; the practical opportunities available to the new President regarding his relationship with the military establishment; and the possibilities for dealing with the ongoing protest movement.
Chengriha is the first military leader not to have served as part of the Algerian resistance, i.e. the National Liberation Army, which became the core of the Algerian army following independence. Chengriha is a respected and highly efficient military figure. He studied in the Russian Federation and gained most of his experience in the field. He assumed command of the third military division in southern Algeria (Bechar), and was entrusted with issues concerning the Moroccan border and the Sahara. It is during this time that the prevailing image of Chengriha as anti-Morocco and a supporter of the POLISARIO Front was born.
Possible scenarios for the Algerian political scene
Based on the above, there are three main possible scenarios:
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